What Qualifies A Novel As Historical

Comments: 9

I've been struggling to decide whether or not I can classify my novel set in the mid-1960s as historical. Recently, I posed this question on several writer's forums and got some great answers. But the one I really think solidified my feelings that my work is "historical" is the one by LDSPublisher. Her response was illuminating, and greatly appreciated.

Historical fiction, simply defined, is when an author puts fictional characters against a setting of real historical events. Usually, to call it historical, the fictional characters need to interact with real historical figures or take part in/be impacted by the actual events.

What defines a historical event? Some people would call a novel set in the 70s historical fiction. Personally, I'm offended by that. I remember the 70s. Sort of. The 1950s is borderline. By the time you get to WWII, it would definitely be classified as historical.

Just because you can take a plot from one era and make it work just as well in another era doesn't mean it isn't a historical novel. However, the more the story depends upon the actual historical event, the more truly "historical" it is.

By that definition, even though it's more recent than most historical works, I still think my novel fits the bill. It's set with the Vietnam War as a backdrop. Kids are talking about either joining up, or being drafted, and even draft dodging. Arguments and even fist fights break out over that subject.

So, what does all that mean?

It means I need to start marketing it as a historical as well as young adult. I think that should open more agents' doors. At least I'm hoping so.

So, does your work fit within that definition, or are you writing more contemporary?

About Paul West

Paul West is a freelance writer and novelist. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Paul claims to be a "Prune Picker," though he now makes his home in Taylorsville, Utah.

You can follower him on Twitter: @PaulWWest

Published: Thursday, November 19, 2009

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  1. glad you are getting some resolution to your dilemma. i personally cannot wait for it to hit the shelves so i can have my own personalized copy!

  2. Thanks Kim.

    Wow, you found my blog entry super fast. Did you get it from FaceBook? I posted it there, but can't see it anywhere.

    I've decided to query it as both historical and young adult and see what happens. I'm also reworking my query (again).

  3. What a great response! It just clicks!

  4. I never really got into historical fiction until just recently. I'm finding that I really like it.
    Good luck with your book.

  5. Cathy,

    Thank you for your comments. Your book "Miracle on Main Street" sounds wonderful. I'm going to check out Sea Gull Books and see if I can't find it.

    My second novel is being set during the Korean War, just a few years earlier than yours.

    Good luck with your book painting. Your books sound wonderful.

  6. You got a winner definition there for historical fiction. When I wrote "Bones" I knew the world it was set in was clearly the United States and a time past, but you'd be hard pressed to identify any historical event as a backdrop. I'd say, according to the definition given by your friend, my story is just plain old fiction... a figment of my imagination. However, it seemed pretty real as it unfolded in my mind. Thanks again for the insight.

  7. Hey Paul, it's me, Tag, from REW waaaaay back. Remember me? I've been looking for you.

    So are you going to try your novel as historical fiction? I looked for you on Facebook, but there are tons of Paul Wests. I'm under Virginia Marion, in Fort Worth, TX.

    I've been back at REW, but it seems to have been abandonded. Such a shame. I got Mery to come back too.

    I've got your Blog bookmarked so I can keep up with you!!!

  8. Hey Virginia! Hi!

    It's great to hear from you again. I tried my best to keep Razors Edge going, but it became a loosing effort, so I gave it up. I don't think Ellen Hopkins had the time to keep it going. She's quite busy selling her books.

    As for me, I'm still trying to sell my book as either historical or young adult, or both. I working with some people on Georgia McBride's forum to rework my query. I keep getting this same comment that it reads too much like a synopsis than a query. I have been struggling to figure out what they mean by that, but I think I've finally figured it out. I'm kind of dense at times.

    So, what have you been up to? I haven't heard much from Mery either.

    As for FaceBook, I'll look you up so you don't have to look me up.

    Great to hear from you. I hope we can keep in touch.

  9. I'm not bogged down anymore so I'm trying to get the old group together. It may be that the only way I can do that is to create another site. But Ellen said she'd be around when she could. I'm a big fan of her books.

    Mery is crazy busy with school but if you head over to REW you can read her post about what has been happening with her. It is an amazing story.

    I talked to Case and think he's coming back.

    I just got Bob and David's email addresses and have sent them emails asking them to catch up with us.

    Is there somewhere I can go to see your queary letter? I'm not at that point with my own writing but I'd love to see it. I can't wait to start buying your books!!!